Singaporean and Malaysians are not so particular about food offerings to ghosts. This is not the case for those Taiwanese and Hong Kong people. Foods offered to ghosts especially during the Ghost Month should be selective because of their symbolic meanings.
Below are some of vegetables or fruits with their intrinsic meanings:
Banana is believed to be able to attract ghosts maybe because its link with banana plant and hence the infamous banana spirit; but also the word ‘香蕉’ in Cantonese meaning ‘to invite’. It is so afraid that once those good brothers and sisters enjoyed the meal; they refuse to leave.
Likewise, although pineapple is a must for gods and goddesses; it is not proper for ghosts due to its Chinese characters reads something like ‘come in wind’. If the ghosts do come like a wind, then this will also bring bad luck. Ideally, these ghosts should leave ASAP after the free meal and bring fortune to the worshipper ASAP too.
Apples has the same sound as ‘poor’ in Chinese. So, by offering apples to either gods or ghosts; poverty may be fallen to the worshippers.
Pomegranate also has the meaning to ‘stay put’. So, it is also no good if the ghosts staying put and not bring any fortunes to the worshipper. After all, there is no free lunch in this world… that extends to the spiritual world too!
There is a Cantonese proverb that sounds like ‘骗鬼吃豆腐’ (coaxing ghosts to eat tofu) meaning it is very easy to deceive a person. So, it is apparent that ghosts like tofu. The reason being that tofu is soft and wet, after one year in hell; the only thing ghosts can eat is tofu since their throats were already too dry and hot to swallow anything else.
Water convolvulus (蕹菜)
Water convolvulus soup is a must for some Taiwanese folks in ghost worships. The reasons are profound:
1. Water convolvulus is tasteless so it is not anyone’s favourite food. In a ghost offering ceremony when all ghosts are summoned to enjoy feasts, strong and weak ones shall rush to the offering table at once. The strong ones will devour those goodies leaving the weaker ones nothing to eat. Naturally, no one likes water convolvulus would also not be consumed by the ghosts. Since the weaker ghosts are powerless against strong ones; at least they can still drink the water convolvulus soup. So, everyone would have a piece of something to eat.
2. Water convolvulus is cheap and at times, it is also freely available from the nature. So, in old times when people cannot afford to prepare sumptuous food offerings for ghosts; just to console those lesser fortunate ones; they are allowed to present water convolvulus soup as the sole offering. In Taiwan, most of the places have joint food offering for ghosts for a village. This allowance enables practically everyone in a village, rich and poor can participate in the festivals.
3. Water convolvulus is empty inside the stems, and it has the meaning of ‘empty heart’. Indirectly telling whatever spirits that ‘I have no heart to retain you so please leave after eat’.
Just a final word, different thing means different meaning in different places too. So, please pay attention to the local customs or you will find yourself a lot of problems if things are not going well right after the food offering ceremonies… And, the above is just a short list amongst many others!